All My Critters… Part 5

Great and Small on the Preserve

Coopers Hawk…

outside the back window of the RV 9/2020:

Named for William Cooper in 1825, this New York naturalist collected specimens of this hawk and later became the first American to join the London Zoological Society. Common nesters in the Southwest United States, Cooper’s hawks breeding range covers most of the lower 48 continental states plus southern Canada and Mexico. But they prefer the riparian zones along streams and desert washes. Like owls, Cooper’s hawks will cough up the indigestible parts of their prey: feathers, fur, bones, and scales. (

Why Did the Bighorn Sheep Cross the Road?

We’re not quite sure, but on September 3rd 2020, Riverside County Sheriff’s Deputies we’re dispatched to Washington Street in La Quinta to check out the following traffic hazard:

So, traffic was shut down for about an hour while police slowly escorted these peninsular bighorn sheep back to the Santa Rosa Mountains.

Check out these photos from the Desert Sun:

Peninsular bighorn sheep inhabit the dry, rocky, low-elevation desert slopes, canyons, and washes from the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa Mountains near Palm Springs, south into Baja California according to the Bighorn Institute in Palm Desert. In 1998 they were federally listed as an endangered species due to disease, habitat loss, and human disturbance. (


Notice the squiggly even-spaced tracks I highlighted in blue below within the Preserve’s Utility Vehicle’s (Mule) tire tracks.

These squiggles are the tracks of the sidewinder rattlesnake, a relatively small pit viper up to 32 inches long, that lives in desert habitats and is named for its unique side-stepping locomotion that helps it move across loosely packed sand at up to 18 mph. It’s rough scales assist them to move in this S-motion across hot sand without burning themselves. A unique hornlike structure above each eye protects its eyes from sunlight and blowing sand. ( courtesy of Jason Jones

Sidewinders are active during the day in cooler weather months and nocturnal during the warm seasons. Although they have a venomous bite, these guys are shy snakes and only bite humans because they are frightened. (

Courtesy of Mark_Kostitch/

The Great Horned Owl…

is named for its tuft of feathers that sit atop its head. So, what look like horns are just fluff called plumicorns
🥴! One of the most common owls in North America, these owls can live in a variety of habitats that include forests, swamps, desert, tundra edges, rain forests, cities, suburbs, ants parks. Like other owls, great horned owls swallow their prey (rodents, skunks, geese) whole and later regurgitate pellets composed of bone, fur, and other unwanted parts of their meal. (

The pond at the Preserve was the best place to spot these fierce predators.

Great horned owls are great parents and will defend their nests at all costs. Each spring on the Preserve we would look for nests of young owls at the pond. The dad owl would guard the nest from a distance like a sentinel while mom nurtured the owlets for 10-12 weeks until they were ready to fly. We observed 3 furry babies each year. So awesome!


This sweet little kitten was dropped off in the desert by some uncaring person to try and survive in an unnatural environment. Fortunately a hiking couple brought him to us and we immediately named him Shadow. Poor little guy was soooo hungry, he devoured 2 cans of tuna fish! We took him to the nearby No-Kill Cat Shelter on Ramon Rd. and they checked him out and assured us Shadow (they kept the name) would be adopted quickly.

A happy ending to a sad story…

Jeff shared this story with me while I was away visiting my son and his family in Ohio. (My other two sons were living in the UK at the time.) Some women hikers walked to the pond and then headed to Vista Point on the Moon Country Trail. While up on Vista Point, they noticed a coyote in the distance. As they headed back to the main oasis, the coyote approached them. Well, the coyote turned out to be a dog abandoned in the desert. As the women were leaving the Preserve, a No Dog area, Jeff saw them in the parking lot and started to talk to them about the dog, unleashed and definitely not welcome here. The women explained what happened and apparently because this dog adopted them, they decided to take this abandoned guy home with them to its new forever home. Another happy ending…


A pair of Mallard Ducks set up “house” on the Pond after the invasive crawfish of the 1950s were introduced for Boy Scouts to catch and unwanted home aquarium fish were secretly dumped into the Pond crafted by a spring rising from the San Andreas Fault.

Mallards generally mate for life which is why we see them in pairs: the colorful males who do not quack but emit a quieter, rasping sound and the brown-toned females who definitely quack. (

The male mallard duck is called a drake and has a glossy green head, a white ring around its neck, and a rich chestnut brown breast. In contrast, the female mallard duck is mottled brown and dull in comparison to the male. Females lay up to a dozen eggs in nests on the ground near water. A little more than a day after hatching, ducklings can run, swim, and forage for food on their own. Ducklings remain in the nest for less than a month. A group of ducklings is called a brood and outside the nest, the brood sticks close by the mother for safety, following her in a neat, single-file line. (

Unfortunately the great horned owls feed upon the mallard ducklings and even upon the mallards as well.

Cactus Wren…

A large chunky wren with a long heavy bill, a long rounded tail, and short rounded wings… a speckled brown bird with a bright white eyebrow and cinnamon sides… ( Kind of sounds like a wine bouquet description!

Cactus wren, courtesy of Gaetan Dupont/Audubon Photography Awards

Cactus wrens are ubiquitous in the southwest deserts, usually seen in pairs or families, strutting on the ground or in the brush. They live in a variety of low dry habitats that include: cactus, yucca, mesquite, and thorny shrubs. These were the first birds we learned to identify on the Preserve because of their distinguished call that sounds like a metal rake dragged through loose gravel, like “rrrack” or “rrreek” with the initial “r” sound emphasized.

Males and females build nests together usually in cholla cactus (pictured below) but also in yucca trees, mesquite, acacia, or palo verde. These bulky masses of weeds, grass, and twigs are lined with feathers, animal hair, and plant down, and are shaped like a football lying on its side. The entrance is at one end, with a narrow tubular passage leading to the nest chamber. (,,

Cactus wren nest, courtesy of Douglas Bruns/Macaulay Library

Below are some pics I took of cactus wrens posing in fallen palm fronds. To the left is an entrance to a nest inside of the skirt of a California Palm Tree. I actually saw the cactus wren enter this hole in the skirt with soft and fuzzy plant debris in its mouth and disappear inside! The nest was about 15 feet from the ground. Notice the dangling plant down residue clinging beneath the entrance to the nest.

Cactus wrens mostly eat insects and some fruits and seeds, foraging among leaf matter on the ground and probing in bark crevices in low trees. On the ground, these birds are known to insert their bill under a leaf or small rock to look for food underneath. Adaptable and curious, cactus wrens will explore new sources of food from poking into pine cones and picking up smashed insects from the front ends of parked cars. (

Just Some More Pics of Speckled Rattlesnakes on the Preserve…

cuz they are cool… unless you pose for a selfie with them!

Desert Scorpion

Not so funny story… During our first fall and winter as Preserve Hosts at Coachella Valley Preserve Thousand Palms Oasis, I came back from either a hike or cleaning the Palm House Visitor Center log cabin and was excitedly met by Jeff and the other host, Gregg, eagerly asking me to move the umbrella for our backyard community patio table that was resting by the supply and laundry shed. I must admit I was a bit surprised because we lived under palm trees and an umbrella was not necessary for shading the table. But, I gullibly lifted the umbrella and was startled to discover a skinny crablike white and green spider thing with a curled tail. Instead of taking the time to give it a closer inspection and take its picture, I screamed and quickly put the umbrella down. I will never forget my first elusive encounter with a desert scorpion and hoped I would have a chance to see more and learn more. But, unfortunately, I never did!

Fortunately, another Preserve host, Ken Mix, did encounter a desert scorpion and took great pictures that he shared with me:

The most common scorpion found in the Sonoran and Mojave Deserts of Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, and the Baja California Norte area of Mexico is the Arizona giant hairy scorpion, the largest of its species in the U.S., often exceeding 5 inches in length. (

Hairy Scorpion
Arizona Hairy Scorpion courtesy of Fritz Geller-Grimm.Wikipedia Commons

Scorpions are believed to have have originated in the ocean with gills and a claw like appendage enabling them to hold onto rocky shores or seaweed. Because of their documented presence in an abundance of fossil records, they are thought to have existed in some form since about 425-450 million years ago. (

Here is a simple anatomy lesson:, courtesy Andrew Howells

The scorpion’s body consists of a head and abdomen. A pair of eyes is on top of its head, but 2-5 more pairs may be be found laterally on the side of its head. Extending from the head are a pair of claws used for capturing prey and mating. These claws are called pedipalps. The abdomen has a main body (mesosoma) and a tail (metasoma). The metasoma curves up and ends in a bulb-like vessel containing venom glands and a sharp spine that delivers venom. And as a distant cousin of the spider, they have 8 legs. To summarize: scorpions look sort of like a skinny crab, have 4 pairs of legs, a pair of pincers, and a long, segmented tail that curls up with a stinger on the end. (

Scorpions use their venom to subdue prey and defend themselves. Most scorpion stings are not life threatening to humans, the exception being the sting of the bark scorpion.

The Arizona bark scorpion colonizes small portions of California, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, Texas, and northwestern Mexico. Adults measure 2-3 inches in length and are more slender. It’s sting is hazardous to adults and requires medical intervention. (

Bark scorpion
wikimedia, courtesy of Musides

Desert Iguana

One of my very favorite critters on the Preserve, the desert iguana is likely to be seen in spring and summer within range of the creosote bush, that is mainly dry, sandy desert scrubland. Their favorite food is the yellow flower of the creosote bush. (

Including its tail, this medium-sized desert dweller can reach a length of 16 inches. Desert iguanas are pale gray or whitish with a tan or brown meshed pattern on the back and sides. This heat-loving lizard depends upon the creosote bush especially for food and protection. It crawls into the branches and enjoys eating the leaves and flowers. It burrows around and under the shrub roots to avoid extreme temperatures and predators. (

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